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B.C. local leaders ponder lawsuit against ‘big oil’ over climate change

‘Sue Big Oil’ campaign hopes to help communities recoup costs related to the effects of climate change
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The Ministry of Transportation completed repairs to a 50-metre stretch of Malahat highway on Oct. 31, almost two years after heavy rains and floods washed out the northbound lane and compromised the cliffside retaining wall. A campaign the CRD could look at joining wants to sue fossil fuel companies for climate-related costs taxpayers are paying. (Courtesy of B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation)

Roads washing out with increasing frequency, droughts stressing local water supplies and wind storms that left some without power for days.

Those are some impacts of climate change Gary Holman says are affecting his community of Salt Spring Island.

And they are spurring him to push his compatriots on the Capital Regional District to explore whether it should join a legal battle against “big oil” companies for their role.

The West Coast Environment Law group’s Sue Big Oil campaign calls on B.C. local governments to join forces through a class-action lawsuit against fossil fuel giants. The campaign hopes the suit would recover a share of climate-related costs being paid by communities.

View Royal, Squamish and Gibsons have committed to supporting the lawsuit.

Holman’s motion to have CRD staff study the merits of joining the lawsuit will be considered next month. He isn’t taking a side on whether the CRD should join just yet as he first wants to hear the pros and cons of signing on.

However, he said recouping costs being borne by communities is a valuable issue to pursue as he said fossil fuel consumption is the biggest influencer of climate change, plus the corresponding severe weather events that are getting more frequent and intense.

“There’s absolutely no question (more severe weather is) creating huge costs for individuals, businesses and taxpayers,” Holman said. “Large companies that have benefited hugely, and continue to benefit hugely, should play a role in mitigating those costs.”

The CRD director and the campaign propose the courts should hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change in the same way tobacco and drug companies were liable for the harm their products caused. Sue Big Oil also accuses the fossil fuel industry of not only knowingly causing climate change, but misleading the public on it for decades.

ExxonMobil’s public statements were contradictory to its own scientists finding, in the 1970s, that fossil fuel use would cause climate change. A study released this year in the journal Science found the company’s modelling accurately predicted the rate of global warming that would occur each decade in response to rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Holman has witnessed more and more roads washing out – cutting off major parts of the Gulf Island – in recent years as culverts get overwhelmed. While locals pay for maintenance costs, he noted Salt Spring Island being an electoral area means all B.C. taxpayers are one hook when emergency road repairs are needed.

Salt Spring’s water utility also has a moratorium on new connections due to more evaporation, longer droughts, greater stress on aquatic ecosystems and other climate change impacts on the island’s reservoirs.

“Climate changes are impacting us locally pretty significantly already and it’s only going to get worse,” Holman said.

His motion was voted on two years and one day from when an atmospheric river hit B.C. The intense rains caused 50 metres of the Malahat to wash out and spurred a Salt Spring Island mudslide. The province finished repairs on the impacted Malahat section last month.

As B.C. faces increased costs – including almost $1 billion from fighting this year’s record wildfires – some fossil fuel firms have continued to post record profits.

“I think it just adds to the force of the argument, that a portion of those profits should be used to compensate for costs being incurred,” Holman said.

READ: View Royal votes to support lawsuit against global oil companies



Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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